When my partner and I left home in late January for our annual winter sojourn in San Miguel, Mexico, the warning bells about the coronavirus were sounding quietly on a far distant horizon. I found them very easy to ignore.
We packed hand sanitizer and face masks in our carry-on luggage when we left Canada, but my attitude at the time was that this was a bit of a lark. Certainly, we saw nothing on our travels south to indicate the coronavirus was top of mind for other travellers, the airlines or airports.
Throughout our almost six weeks in San Miguel, we saw no sign of the disease around us. Mexicans seemed relaxed about it – hugging and kissing on greeting and parting company with others remained commonplace, there were no public health signs warning against such contact or urging extra hand washing or telling people to sneeze into their elbows. Reported rates of the virus in Mexico were (and remain) very low.
It was easy to enjoy the sun, warmth and everything else I go to San Miguel for without thinking much about sickness.
“It will go away”
For most of our stay, I was in full denial about the seriousness of COVID-19, as we now call it. I refused to read more than the headlines, but even so, I certainly knew the numbers were rising and many people were dying. Despite this, and much conversation among the ex-pat community about the virus, I managed to convince myself that the virus would not affect me in any way.
In the unconscious arrogance of my privilege, I thought everything would just settle down and I could continue my life without interruption. Just call me Donalda Trump.
Finally, on March 12th, my partner pulled my head out of the sand and insisted that we change our travel plans and return to Canada. The discussions that followed were not particularly pretty, but I succumbed to his insistence, and I am glad that I did.
We spent the better part of that day online: first, on hold for hours with AeroMexico to try to rebook our flight before we gave up on that and just bought new tickets, hoping we could sort out some kind of refund for the April 1st tickets we wouldn’t use; booking ground transportation to the airport in Mexico and home from Pearson airport; cancelling work appointments on our travel days, letting our house sitter know he would have to move out earlier than planned, contacting family and friends about our changes in plans and so on.
Once the stress of deciding to come home early and making all the necessary changes in plans was out of the way, we were able to enjoy our final day in San Miguel. The travel day itself, while long, went almost unbelievably smoothly. We encountered no hitches and, contrary to tales we had heard about long and slow-moving lineups at Canadian immigration, we were through the airport and in our rental car heading home in just over an hour from when we landed.
An exercise in privilege
My privilege gave me opportunities not available to most of the world. First, I can spend two months of the cold Canadian winter in San Miguel. When I had to come home early, I had a credit card that let me book new plane tickets. I had a passport. I had a safe home with clean drinking water waiting for me at the end of the trip, in a country with publicly funded health care, should I become ill. I had kids who could stock up the refrigerator for me before I got here. I even had lots of toilet paper (28 rolls, to be exact). I have work I can easily do from home during our 14 days of self-isolation.
Life is not so comfortable for many in this extraordinary time in which we are living right now, including women fleeing abuse. Public policies to close courts, schools and public spaces such as libraries and community centres may help to control the spread of the virus, but they put many of those women and their children at greater risk.
Women still living in abusive relationships are forced into round the clock contact with their abuser within the privacy of their home, with nowhere to go for even short-term refuge.
Family courts in Ontario are virtually closed down, meaning women have limited ability to get restraining or custody orders and their abusers have increased power because they know this.
Many other people – Indigenous communities in this country where housing is inadequate (to say the least) and clean drinking water non-existent, refugee camps on the U.S./Mexico border and around the world, countries without the financial resources to treat the virus – also lack the capacity to deal with this virus effectively.
Time to get over my privileged complaining about having to cut my time in San Miguel short.